An emergency petition campaign spearheaded by Harvard Law School graduate Rebecca Sharpless ’94 and five human rights organizations has prompted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to urge the U.S. government to halt deportations to Haiti of Haitian citizens who are seriously ill or who have family ties in the U.S. The petition drive was prompted by reports in January that a recently deported man died in a Haitian jail after authorities there failed to provide him with medical treatment.

“The U.S. government has blood on its hands,” said Sharpless, who is an assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Law and director of its Immigration Clinic, in a news release. “While detained in Louisiana, Wildrick Guerrier expressed grave concerns that he had no family in Haiti, that he had not been to Haiti for a very long time, afraid of what would happen to him in Haiti and of the cholera outbreak. He was right to be terrified.”

In its written decision, the IACHR noted that the jails and prisons in Haiti are “overcrowded, and the lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation or toilets could facilitate the transmission of cholera, tuberculosis, and other diseases.” Due to these conditions and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country, deportees could remain in detention with no access to adequate medical treatment, food, or drinking water, the organization said.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposed a ban on deportation to Haiti after the earthquake in January of 2010, but lifted the ban last month. Rights groups involved in the petition drive, including the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights and Immigration Clinics and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, argued that deporting persons to Haiti at this point would result in human rights violations, including deprivations of the rights to life, family and due process, and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.

The IACHR urged that the suspension last until Haiti is “able to guarantee that detention conditions and access to medical care comply with applicable minimum standards” and puts procedures in place to review the rights of persons subjected to deportation.

During her time at Harvard Law School, Sharpless was involved with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, which represents clients from all over the world seeking protection from abuses in their country of origin.

In early February, the HLS clinic co-sponsored “Lawyering for Haiti,” a panel discussion on the role of lawyers in humanitarian cases. Featuring HLS Professor and clinic director Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84, the event gave attendees the opportunity to sign a petition to the U.S. government to stop the deportation of Haitians.